For only the second time in 50 years, the number of Australian students applying for a university course this year has dropped sharply. Reports from tertiary admission centres in the six states indicated falls of up to 10 per cent compared with the number of applications received for the last academic year. Critics claimed students were being deterred by the decision of a majority of universities to increase tuition fees by up to 25 per cent. The University of Canberra decided to increase its fees by 20 per cent and suffered the biggest fall of any - a 14 per cent drop on 2003 applications. At the same time, Curtin University in Perth will not vary its charges and has still seen a 10 per cent decline. Murdoch University opted for a 20 per cent increase and recorded only a slight decline. Academics pointed out that as students could defer their fees until they graduated and were earning at least A$35,000 ($206,640) a year, higher charges may not have been the main factor. They noted that government grants to students to cover living costs were awarded to only a small minority and that most had to find jobs to survive. 'It is the difficulty of trying to find the money to live that is more likely to be turning students away from university,' said one expert.